India can become competitive

“There needs to be a separate budget for high performance rugby development, and if this is possible there will be significant and rapid improvement,” says the former All Blacks star Murray Mexted. By Kalyan Ashok.

Rugby might not be among the popular sports in the country, but over the decade it has made steady inroads into the Indian arena. From just two playing centres in the country not long ago, rugby is now played in 39 cities across the nation. There has also been a marked increase in the number of clubs playing rugby in the country — from a mere dozen in 2000, the number of competitive clubs has risen to 55. A decade ago, there were just 1,500 players in the country, but now there are 17,000 registered players who actively play the game.

The Indian team has also been faring well and it finished fourth in an international meet held in Delhi in the first week of April. Now the team has a chance to showcase its talent at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

Rugby India, as part of its preparation for the Games, sent the Indian probables on a tour of New Zealand and Fiji in March. The team had the unique opportunity of getting up-close and personal with some of the top Rugby sevens teams in the world. The trip gave the Indians an insight into world-class rugby training, fitness and diet schedules.

The highlight of the tour was India's participation in the Marist Sevens — the largest tournament in Fiji. The team competed with New Zealand and Australia among others. The players and officials attended a Rugby Sevens clinic run by former All Blacks star Murray Mexted at Palmerstone.

The Indian team also stayed at Massey University — the largest in New Zealand — where it had access to a state of the art gymnasium, world class pitches and fitness professionals. Indians also had an opportunity to interact with the champion team, All Blacks, and with stars such as Grant Fox — considered a pioneer in the modern art of goal kicking — Christian Cullen, one of most popular full-backs, Karl Te Nana and Craig Digoldy, who were part of the gold medal-winning team at the Commonwealth Rugby Sevens.

The Indian team had a practice match with Hawkes Bay Magpies, one of the top teams in New Zealand.

In an e-mail interview with Sportstar, Murray Mexted shared his views on the Indian team.

Excerpts:

Question: How do you rate the potential of the Indian team?

Answer: This is the first time that these players have been exposed to leading edge 7s coaching and I thought they made rapid progress from humble beginnings. If the team is able to work together and further develop their technical and tactical skills, they can become a very good side, which will make them competitive.

How important is it to have a star performer in the Indian team?

Every team needs stand-out players, and this side had some who need to lift their performance even further. And with a lot of hard work they will set a standard and show the way for others to follow. To be competitive at the top level requires top-level competition.

India lacks state of the art infrastructure. What can be done about it?

There needs to be a separate budget for high performance rugby development, and if this is possible there will be significant and rapid improvement.

What is the best way to develop the game at the grass-roots level?

A top 7s side would be the best advertisement for rugby in India and this would stimulate interest at the grass-roots level.

How best to improve the training methods in the country given the paucity of rugby coaches in India?

In my view it is an absolute necessity to sub-contract specialist coaches if there is a desire for high performance. It is also important to have skilled coaches throughout Indian rugby, and they should be attending advanced coaching course at the International Rugby Academy, where every course has representation from many different countries. In fact, over the last nine years we have had coaches from 30 different countries. This creates a rugby think-tank and would provide diversity of knowledge and different coaching techniques.